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Are You Getting Too Much Of A Good Fat? (Probably)

January 23, 2013
Image by Suzanne Clements / Stocksy

Your über-healthy diet makes a nutritionist proud: chia-seed pudding for breakfast, kale salads for lunch, and curried wild salmon for dinner. You've checked off omega-3's, fiber, magnesium, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein and even turmeric!

But look a little closer, and the diet is missing an essential nutrient: omega-6.

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Omega-6 is just as important to your wellbeing as omega-3. You can't synthesize these fatty acids, nor can you convert the omega-3s to omega-6s. You must get them from your diet.

If you eat the Standard American Diet (red meat, dairy, processed foods and everything doused in corn and soy oil), you'll be getting a bucket full of omega-6.

If you don't eat the Standard American Diet, then you're probably getting plenty of omega-3s and not enough omega-6.

In fact, if you're eating wild salmon four times a week, tossing flaxseed oil into your smoothie, adding chia seeds to your salads, snacking on walnuts and taking a fish oil or flax oil supplement, then it's quite possible you're omega-3 dominant.

Ten years ago, before everything was omega-3 enhanced, we nutrition students ran our fatty acid profile.

To our surprise (but not our professor's), we were omega-3 dominant. It was a great experiment in the concept "just because something is good for you, doesn't mean that more is better."

While being omega-3 dominant is not harmful, it will change the fluidity of the cell membranes and make the cells less responsive. You may have PMS, allergies, a suppressed immune system and a lowered libido. (And you may be frustrated, too. Aren't omega-3's supposed to help this?)

The good news is, it's an easy fix.

The best dietary source of omega-6 is hemp seed. Hemp seeds contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the active omega-6 form. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and raw nuts also contain omega-6, but in the inactive, linoleic acid (LA), form.

To convert this to the anti-inflammatory GLA, you'll need a sufficient amount of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, zinc and magnesium. Alcohol, NSAIDS and stress all interfere with this conversion process and will limit the benefit you receive from the raw nuts and seeds.

To optimize your fatty acid balance, simply follow the below advice:

  • Skip the chia seeds in your salad and use hemp seeds instead
  • Replace flax oil with hemp-seed oil in your smoothie
  • Make a tahini salad dressing, as sesame seeds are rich in omega-6's
  • Skip the omega-3 supplement if you eat three tablespoons chia seed or a 6 ounce piece of wild salmon per day as your diet is sufficient in omega-3's
  • Snack on raw or dehydrated pumpkin seeds as they are rich in omega-6 and zinc, which helps with the conversion of LA to GLA
  • Toss sunflower seeds into a kale salad as sunflower seeds are also rich in omega-6 and zinc
  • Seek out flax crackers made with flax seeds and sunflower seeds for a better omega 6:3 ratio
  • Never eat commercial cereal with flax seed in it as the flax seed has gone rancid due to the heat from commercial processing
  • If you've been prescribed high-dose fish oil, take CoQ10 and a powerful antioxidant supplement to offset the potential omega-3 rancidity

If, however, you eat the Standard American Diet or a slight upgrade from it, completely ignore this advice as you'll be omega-6 dominant. Instead, enhance your diet by taking this mini detox.

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Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN
Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN

Dana James is a Columbia University–educated nutritional therapist and founder of Food Coach NYC. She holds her master's in clinical nutrition and is trained in nutrition biochemistry, functional medicine, and cognitive behavioral therapy. She believes that food should be viewed as nourishing, joyful, and fundamental to self-care. Her goal is to help women break their antagonist (and often obsessive) relationship with food and their bodies. She believes that true beauty stems from grace, dignity, and embracing our idiosyncrasies that make us unique and imperfect.

James created the "How to Ditch Sugar" video series for mindbodygreen. Check out the program here: How to Ditch Sugar.

James coaches one on one, runs workshops in NYC and LA, and holds tele-seminars on various topics that help women lead a more beautiful and balanced life. To connect more with James, check out her Instagram account and sign up for her biweekly Sunday-evening emails.

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